Review: Gamm Theatre stages Glengarry Glen Ross

Leading men
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 8, 2010

WHINER AND WINNER Reifler and Estrella.

As a playwright, David Mamet is tritely, inaccurately, and frequently accused of being a misogynist. But the evidence of his 1982 Glengarry Glen Ross indicates quite the opposite. The four desperate real estate salesman in this play are arguably the most selfish, unlikable louts in American theater, and the only reason for their creation is to hold a frame up to reprehensible behavior — unbridled American capitalism division — of a certain class of alpha males.

The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre is staging the Pulitzer Prize winner (through October 3), directed by Trinity Rep's Fred Sullivan, Jr. Despite the dark undercurrent of surging avarice, the audience is prompted to laughter almost constantly. Mamet shows that the grimly earnest efforts of these men is ludicrous.

Manhood is at stake here. Its measure is fistfuls of money, and its method is to defeat lesser men. The means is aggressive salesmanship that leaves them breathless and bloodied in battle, the pen that signed the contract thrust aloft like a sword. Condemn their selfishness and they'd look at you like you were criticizing them for breathing.

Mamet later wrote three plays explicitly about con men, but this one is more interesting as social commentary because it deals with actions that are not always illegal, just wildly unethical. The title refers to two Florida property developments, Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms, being peddled in a Chicago real estate office.

The four salesmen represent a sort of before-and-after picture of their profession. Richard Roma (Tony Estrella) — Ricky when he wants to sweetly disarm — is the most successful, a brash predator who preys on weaknesses he can detect with smiling eyes. Also on his end of the spectrum is Dave Moss (Tom Gleadow), brash and self-important but lacking Roma's twisted talent of making people believe him. The two losers are Shelly "The Machine" Levene (Sam Babbitt), an old man who has lost his once considerable knack for the job, and George Aaronow (Chuck Reifler), who lacks (or lost) the self-confidence and assertiveness to do well in this business.

The short Act One has them in a Chinese restaurant and bar hangout across from their office, establishing their characters for us, mostly in long, and frequently interrupted monologues. Levene is desperately begging office manager John Williamson (Marc Dante Mancini) into giving him good leads — likely sales candidates — so he can redeem his miserable recent success rate. Money changes hands. Moss is badgering the passive Aaronow into burglarizing the office that night to steal the leads and sell them to a rival. A dapper Roma is waxing philosophical to a stranger, James Lingk (Kelby T. Akin), who is drinking alone at the next table. Roma puffs up, intimidating him with Ayn Rand chest–thumpings, only at the end spreading out a brochure.

At the sales office the dramas continue. In the chaos of the burglary aftermath (we don't really know who did it), Levene is ecstatic because he finally made a big sale, and Babbitt gets us to glory with him in the joy of victory. Gleadow's Moss breaks us up with an apoplectic exit, flinging a flock of birds through the room amidst his bellowed "Fuck you all!"s. Reifler is subtle and wonderful again as the insecure Aaronow. Estrella gives his flamboyant, the-world-is-mine Roma even more warrior energy, in focused rage as the office manager accidentally spoils his scam with a customer who wants to back out of a sale.

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